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Stranger in a Strange Land
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Group Reads 2018 > July 2018 Group Read - Stranger in a Strange Land

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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo | 1093 comments This is to discuss July 2018's Group read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein


message 2: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments I am about two thirds of the way through the book. Book 1 was good. Book 2 was exciting and really good. Book 3 is disappointing so far and very meandering.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 718 comments This is the last of Heinlein's "Big 3" for me since I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers in the last couple years. I'm looking forward to reading this one.


message 4: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments This was "THE"book that everyone in university was reading when I went there in the early 70s, if they weren't reading Lord of the Rings.


Marc-André | 298 comments I'm at 53% right now and here is what I think so far.

The misogyny is rather surprising and surpasses what I would call "normal" for the time, especially comprared to the older Foundation that we just read and mostly found sexist because of the absence of women. Here women are present, but everyone treats them like shit. It isn't just one character, The misogyny is even more surprising since the novel was adopted by hippie counter-culture and judged progressive at the time.

It is less science-fiction and speculative fiction than science-fantasy. The technology (expecially telecommunications), Mars canals, the psychic powers, etc, really feel outdated. This is more of a 1950s novel than a new wave novel in that regard.

Heinlein is a good storyteller. For the most part I enjoyed the characters around Smith (Jubal is too good at everything, but he is likable) and how they help him. Inspite of what I said above, I would really be curious to see how Smith resolves all the problems faced with the legallity of his heritage, but it isn't the novel Heinlein had planned to write.

I'll finish it and I'll read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at some point, but I'm pretty sure it will be all that I read by Heinlein.


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4280 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "I'm at 53% right now and here is what I think so far.

The misogyny is rather surprising and surpasses what I would call "normal" for the time, especially comprared to the older [book:Foundation|29..."


Can you list some examples of misogyny? I've seen others mention it & found might have been misplaced, IMO. For instance, they point to Jubal's harem as being demeaned by him which I don't see at all. Other's mentioned Jill's treatment by doctors, but I think that's more of a position thing, little to do with sex.


message 7: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments Jill makes a statement about rape towards the end of Part 3 that left me reeling, it was inappropriate and demeaning to women. And this from the mouth of a female character!


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4280 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "Jill makes a statement about rape towards the end of Part 3 that left me reeling, it was inappropriate and demeaning to women. And this from the mouth of a female character!"

Do you mean "Mmm ... I grok he might be, too. But, Mike - listen to me carefully, dear. You promised me that you wouldn't do anything of that sort except in utter emergency. So don't be hasty. If you hear me scream and shout, and reach into my mind and know that I'm in real trouble, that's another matter. But I was coping with wolves when you were still on Mars. Nine times out often, if a girl gets raped, it's at least partly her own fault. That tenth time-well, all right. Give him your best heave-ho to the bottomless pit. But you aren't going to find it necessary."

I can see that one, although in those "Father Knows Best" days, it was taken for granted that good girls didn't get into situations where it could be a possibility sue to chaperons & such. A man couldn't rape his wife in the eyes of the law or society. This 1955 piece by Good Housekeeping is indicative of the times & it's short.
https://larrytemple.wordpress.com/200...

RAH was writing this book just 5 years later, so I tend to give him a pass. I think he tried hard to be fair to women. He didn't always succeed, especially by today's standards, but we've come a long way, baby! (According the Virginia Slims cigarette ad.)
;)


message 9: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments That is it exactly.


Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "Can you list some examples of misogyny?."

Pretty much how every women is called, treated, considered or presented in the novel, either by the characters or by the omniscience narrator (and that is the most telling of all). Not many niceties there.

Women of the future are nurses, secretaries, astrologists, and housewifes. They think about sex or marriage.

Jubal's harem (ding!) is full of two dimensional characters (at least so far).

Douglas' wife thinks astrology is science and is manipulated by a charlatand. She is also a shrew.

Alone they mean nothing, but all put together... There isn't much love here for women. More like contempt and prejudices.


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4280 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "Pretty much how every women is called, treated, considered or presented in the novel, either by the characters or by the omniscience narrator ..."

Women of the time were nurses, etc. & expected to think of nothing else. That Jubal's harem were more (finishing his stories, a Fair Witness, etc.) was supposed to be impressive.

A lot of people thought/think astrology is a science & the way that thread plays out in this story has nothing to do with her sex or our understanding of science. Keep an eye on it.

In its time, this book was seen as empowering women. It hasn't aged all that well, but try looking at how women are treated by RAH in comparison to the times. He's a male writer in a male dominated field (both authors & characters) who actually has females as major characters. It's easy to sneer at him from today's standards, but he was far better than the time & standards he came from. I think you're expecting too much. Did you read the link to the article I posted in #8? If not, you should. It sets a whole different baseline to judge from.


message 12: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 640 comments Jim wrote: "This 1955 piece by Good Housekeeping is indicative of the times & it's short."
What to say about that. It looks like it comes from another planet, but it's from here and only some 60 years old. Must be religion motivated.


message 13: by Rosemarie (last edited Jul 03, 2018 06:05AM) (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments Overall, women are not portrayed as passive characters, but none of the characters are well- rounded characters, and they are all two-dimensional.
Re the article
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan shows that this attitude was prevalent among the middle classes, especially in the then new suburbs. Even on the show Bewitched, from the 60s, Samantha stays at home and waits for hubby to come home, doing housework without using her magic.

Back to the novel, I have just read Part 4 and think it so silly and I hope Part 5 will redeem the book for me.


Marc-André | 298 comments Jim wrote: "Women of the time were nurses,..."Yup, and Heinlein wasn't too forward thinking about his imagined future. Women just did what they did in the 1950s.

But Heinlein goes beyond the sexism of the time. There is no love for women in the novel, aside from seeing them as sexual objects.

The only thing developped about female characters is their chests. They constantly are berated, shown to be not too bright and ignorant, or are just harpies. And women are blamed raped.

It is different from say Asimov who just made women invisible in Foundation. It ain't good, but on a spectrum it is better.


message 15: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments Well, I finished the book today and am disappointed. It started out so well in Parts 1 and 2 and lost focus, as I see it, in the rest of the novel.


message 16: by Ed (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 2098 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "Well, I finished the book today and am disappointed. It started out so well in Parts 1 and 2 and lost focus, as I see it, in the rest of the novel."

I've read it 2 times, both in the distant past, so I have few clear memories. But that resonates with my experience. Liked it at first, got bored further in.


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4280 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "Well, I finished the book today and am disappointed. It started out so well in Parts 1 and 2 and lost focus, as I see it, in the rest of the novel."

Which edition are you reading? There are 2 major ones. The original which cut something like 60K words that RAH thought were necessary, so they wound up back in the new uncut edition. I can't believe they would be necessary, but am not masochistic enough to try. I didn't think the original lost focus. It was pretty much an updated Jesus story.

I thought it was a very good story in its day, but it hasn't aged well. The tech was pretty clunky. Of course, it was first published in 1961, so the IC was new & tubes were standard. Motorola's Quasar TV, the one with the 'works in a drawer' didn't come out until 1967 which had most everything on replaceable circuit boards that could be plugged in like cards in a PC. It was a revolutionary idea in the consumer market at the time. We got a used one in 1972, our first color TV. I was fascinated by it.

Marc-Andre - This was held up as feminist in its time because of the free sexuality of the women. The Pill was new & finally women could have sex without the worry of pregnancy. Jill enjoyed teasing the marks & felt no shame, rather reveled in her freedom. From the middle class American point of view, that was a revolutionary idea at the time. Still, just a page or 2 later she makes the rape statement. He's never subtle nor is his romance any good, but I think he was trying.


message 18: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments I read Stranger in a Strange Land way back in my college hippie days. I really liked it. I read it again a few years ago. I liked it, but it had lost a lot of its special magical appeal. I still think it is a must-read, if only for Evolution of Science Fiction purposes.

The main topic in this discussion seems to be feminism and the treatment of women. I didn't pick up on that at all. Whoosh – right over my head. I saw Stranger as a satirical jab at religion, especially commercialized religion

Valentine Michael Smith, The Man from Mars, is the title character, but Jubal Harshaw is the most prominent character, and the one I remembered most from my hippie days. In the audiobook version I heard in 2012, The narrator, Christopher Hurt, gives Jubal a wonderfully arrogant southern voice. I think maybe Jubal, wise, arrogant, and polyamorous, was Heinlein's characterization of himself.


message 19: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 640 comments Only 20% in but I can't say I'm thrilled. I liked last month's Foundation trilogy much better. But I still have an exciting women-unfriendly 80% to go.


message 20: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments Jubal has the most interesting personality and is the most well-rounded character- and he is funny.


Marc-André | 298 comments I didn't grok this novel and gave it two stars.

The angels talking parts really leave me wondering. What are they supposed to be? I know Heinlein wrote them thinking they were funny. They aren't. But beyond that. Is it supposed to be satire? Just stupid humour to dedramatize the afterlife? Something else? The tone doesn't reflect the rest of the novel, but that is just one of this classic's problems.


message 22: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments I thought that the angels talking was ridiculous. When I first read it, I wondered what was going on. This book could have used some serious editing.


Michael | 44 comments Marc-André wrote: "The misogyny is rather surprising and surpasses what I would call "normal" for the time, especially comprared to the older Foundation that we just read and mostly found sexist because of the absence of women. "

As someone who was living in the 60's, I guess I don't really see this book as "surpassing normal" in terms of poor treatment of women. Yes, in the social context women are portrayed in the niche they were limited to back then in a lot of ways, but I don't see any of the main male characters treating them like "shit". Yes, Jubal is the unquestioned "patriarch" (gasp!) of the book, but that is more of a self-insertion of the author (and found in many of his books) rather than a assertion of male domination. Jubal's three "secretaries" all seem to be fairly strong characters who give Jubal as good as they get, and one of them (Anne) is supposed to be a highly trained and respected legal practitioner. Even Jill, who is portrayed as a bit of an airhead in the beginning, seems like she grows during the course of the book into a stronger character.

I'm certainly not saying the way women are portrayed in the book should be considered acceptable today, and I can understand people having a hard time with that aspect of the book now. Perhaps some of my opinion is also colored by my knowledge of the author outside of his fiction writing.

Marc-André wrote: "It is less science-fiction and speculative fiction than science-fantasy. The technology (expecially telecommunications), Mars canals, the psychic powers, etc, really feel outdated. This is more of a 1950s novel than a new wave novel in that regard. "

Yes, much of the technology is dated now, but that can be said for almost any SF book more than 10 years old that talks about technology at all. Consider, too, that this book was published 8 years before the first Mars fly-by, which is what really crushed the hope of finding a terrestrial-like ecosphere on Mars. Also, back then at least some people still thought there might be some scientific basis for psychic powers and there was still research in the field going on at the university level. It was certainly still a common SF trope at the time the book was written.

This is just my opinion of the contents of the book, and my opinion is just that, an opinion and I don't claim it to be any better than your! ;-)


Marc-André | 298 comments Michael wrote: "Also, back then at least some people still thought there might be some scientific basis for psychic powers and there was still research in the field going on at the university level. It was certainly still a common SF trope at the time the book was written."

John W. Campbell was a major influence when it came to psychic powers present in sci-fi lit. It was presented as scientific and not magic because Campbell believed in a lot of hooey that he thought was based on science. Since he was an editor with a lot (to use a euphamism) of influence, it tainted the genre for quite sometime.

In that regard, from an evolution of sci-fi lit standpoint, many of its themes are set in a Campbellian golden age tradition.


message 25: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 640 comments I must admit that I abandonned the book. Too much talk and politics for me. Then I picked it up again after a few days. Just because it is a classic I do want to finish it.


message 26: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments Books 1 and 2 were the best parts, by far. It just gets sillier and sillier after that. I do like Jubal, because he is the least annoying character.
This book had such possibilities but Heinlein veered off course and nevee did get back on track.


message 27: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 640 comments I hope I passed the point of no return then...


message 28: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments In the later sections you will get an idea why this book was so popular with the hippie generation. It is "far out".


message 29: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 640 comments I finished but it was hard work and took me a long time too. There is not much I liked specifically in the book. The only other Heinlein book I read is Starship Troopers. I liked that one. Very different kind of book and there's only 2 years between the writing of those two books.


message 30: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 512 comments I liked Starship Troopers better than this one, too.


Keith (twofarwest) | 4 comments I liked Heinlein’s early works the best. It seems to me he began listening to his publisher on what would sell more books.


message 32: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4280 comments Mod
Heinlein submitted "Starship Troopers" as one of his juveniles, but it was rejected. I've always thought they & his short stories were his best, most re-readable works.


message 33: by Ed (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 2098 comments Mod
Currently on Wikipedia on "History of Science Fiction":
Stranger in a Strange Land was a reimagining of The Jungle Book, with the human child raised by Martians instead of wolves. Heinlein's technique of indirect exposition first appears in Kiplings' writing. Heinlein, the central influence of all science fiction from the 1930s forward, has also described himself as influenced by George Bernard Shaw, whose longest work Back to Methuselah (1921) was itself science fiction.



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